james, harwick + partners, dallas

Like many tourist meccas, New Orleans faces the thorny problems of overcrowding and urban growth. So our hats are off to James, Harwick + Partners, who offer a head-on solution with the Saulet. The residential/retail development, slated to open at the end of this year, combines living, working, and public spaces that nicely preserve the architectural style, scale, and street pattern of its historic neighborhood.

The 708-unit apartment complex, once the site of derelict warehouses, lends a residential edge to the Lower Garden District on one side and the Convention Center on the other. Its retail spaces are just large enough for such basic neighborhood services as a dry cleaner, pharmacy, or corner deli. Purely residential units are ingeniously interspersed with live/work combos--small apartments above street-level workspaces, connected by stairs. "As more and more people become independent contractors or entrepreneurs," says architect Mark Wolf, "this kind of urban design is starting to evolve as a lifestyle issue."

JHP used materials and proportions to differentiate between the various uses. Retail areas are executed mostly in metal, a historic connection to the steel galleries and stylish filigree of the Garden District and the French Quarter. Residential and live/work units feature traditional wood, but are slightly different from each other in proportion and column layout. The residential apartments draw their mansion-scale details from those in the Garden District.

"We were careful to use the Garden District as a design precedent," Wolf says. "One of the pitfalls is to get too nostalgic. We tried to take a cleaner, more contemporary slant, which was driven in part by the realism of the budget." The judges approved, commenting that the design is "done elegantly and with a lot of variety. It looks very New Orleans without resorting to a lot of wrought iron and curlicues."

At 55 units per acre, the project's density was a design challenge. The architects managed, however, to include three parking garages, 145 ground-level parking spaces, and a pocket park. "We tried not to let the automobile drive this thing too much," Wolf says. "But the design was also market-driven. We had to provide on-site parking." From a neighborhood standpoint, that amenity adds to the Saulet's appeal, as does the project's distinctive location and layout, and the cachet of the brand-new. "It's unique because there's not much residential construction in the city," Wolf says. "Finally people have an alternative to warehouse conversion and fix-it-up stuff."

Indeed, the Saulet is a refreshing alternative to the unsightly, anonymous sprawl all too common on America's metropolitan fringes. "I knew it was New Orleans the minute I looked at it," said a judge.

project architect: J. Mark Wolf, AIA, James, Harwick + Partners
land planner: J. Mark Wolf, James, Harwick + Partners
developer: Michael W. Riley, Greystar Capital Partners, Houston
general contractor: Tom Murphy, Greystar Development & Construction, Houston
landscape architect: Talley Associates, Dallas
project size: 874 to 1,375 square feet per unit
site size: 13.5 acres
construction cost: $71 per square foot
rental price: $700/month to $1,650/month per unit
units in project: 708